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Encouraging Italian in School

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I have written in the past about the need for parents, whose children attend schools that offer Italian as an elective, to take a proactive stance when their local boards consider discontinuing the Italian-language offering. While some school districts have done so—or at least, have attempted to do so—many more schools and universities have added Italian to their curricula.

Until the late 1980s, school districts that offered Italian in the Delaware Valley were few and far between, mostly in large Italian-American enclaves like South Philadelphia, Vineland, N.J., and Hammonton, N.J. In the 1990s, there was suddenly an outburst of interest in promoting the teaching of Italian, which resulted in schools throughout the region offering Italian.

Today, there are vibrant programs in school districts that one would never have imagined 50 years ago. During my teaching career, I found that approximately 95 percent of parents, including non-Italos, were excited by the fact that their children could study Italian. The remaining 5 percent who showed no interest were, sadly, Italian-American parents. I was even chastised by some of these Italian-American parents for pushing Italian, telling me that they preferred that their children take a more “useful” language. I had students who wanted to elect Italian come to me and tell me that their parents wouldn’t agree to it, despite the will of these young Italian-Americans to reattach to their roots.

We, as Italian-Americans, are fortunate that our ancestral language does have real value, not solely as a heritage language of study, but also as a language that is viable in this new global economy, especially in the areas of food, wine, fashion and tourism. Other ethnic groups would be ecstatic to have their ancestral language offered in the public schools. One would be hard-pressed to find, for example, a Greek-American or a Polish-American telling his or her child not to learn Greek or Polish.

We Italian-Americans should need to follow that example and pride. Course selection for the 2015-16 school year soon will be taking place. As this process occurs, I hope that our readers, whose children have the opportunity to study Italian and want to do so, will give them 100-percent support, which is one of the most important steps that we, as Italian-Americans, can take to preserve our linguistic heritage in America.

Greg Mathias
Author: Greg Mathias

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